Tuesday 17 October 2017

Why Banksy's election promise to voters is a legal grey area

He’s offering a limited edition artwork to anyone who votes against the Tories.

By Prudence Wade

Banksy isn’t one to shy away from political hot topics, but some believe his latest stunt might be flirting with electoral law.

On Banksy’s website the notoriously elusive graffiti artist is offering a limited edition artwork to registered voters in certain constituencies in the Bristol area.

But there’s a catch. These voters will only receive the “complimentary gift” if they send a photo of their ballot proving that they voted against the Conservative candidate.

Underneath, a lawyer’s note says: “This print is a souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate, has no monetary value, is for amusement purposes only and is strictly not for re-sale.”

Despite the addition of this note, people are still questioning whether this “UK election souvenir special” is illegal in attempting to influence people’s vote – an offence known as treating.

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Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde thought the lawyer’s note indicated that Banksy had sought legal advice over the matter, but said: “I would not be surprised if somebody were to think it might be worth consulting a lawyer.”

He continued: “The question is would what he’s offering be regarded as an inducement of significant financial or monetary value, or is like saying ‘I’ll give you advice: don’t blame me, but I voted Labour’.”

The Electoral Commission says: “A person is guilty of treating if either before, during or after an election they directly or indirectly give or provide any food, drink, entertainment or provision to corruptly influence any voter to vote.”

Mick Temple, professor of journalism and politics at Staffordshire University, says: “It’s a great piece of PR generating him even more publicity for his activities. As with much of his artwork, it borders on the anti-social, potentially unlawful sphere of behaviour.”

Even though he’s not a lawyer, Temple doubts that any voters will be prosecuted as it’s more of a PR stunt.

Some have also questioned whether taking a photograph of your ballot paper is also a crime as it is in some states in America (something that caused Eric Trump a spot of bother last year when he decided to share his vote on Twitter).

In the UK, the law surrounding photography inside a polling station is more opaque. There aren’t any direct bans on taking a photograph inside a polling booth, but the Electoral Commission strongly advises against it.

A spokesman for the the Electoral Commission said: “The law in this area is complex and the reason for that is that it really depends on what specifically one does.

“It’s so hard for anyone to take a judgement as to whether the picture that they’ve taken is illegal or not, but that’s why we always advise: just don’t do it.”

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